By Charlotte Kugler '14
Since the age of nine, Raquel Silva ’14 has been inspired by a passion for giving back to those around her, both locally and internationally. She has been engaged in her church, taught English classes to underprivileged children, and has been involved with leadership training, recycling, and environmental awareness.
What's unusual about her varied activities is that, by the time she was 20, they had brought this young Brazilian citizen in contact with two U.S. First Ladies and several other prominent diplomatic and cultural leaders.
When Silva found out in 2008 about the Brazilian Youth Ambassador’s Program and the opportunity to travel abroad, she applied, not imagining that she would actually be chosen.
The Brazilian Youth Ambassador’s Program is a social responsibility initiative sponsored by the U.S. Embassy in Brazil. Created in 2002, the program identifies Brazilian students who demonstrate exemplary leadership abilities and promotes the strengthening of public education through these students, transforming them into models for their colleagues and communities.
“The experience of being a Youth Ambassador gave us the opportunity to expand our horizons,” Silva says. “At the same time, it also helped us strengthen the ties of friendship, respect, and collaboration between Brazil and the United States.”
As a 2008 Youth Ambassador, Silva spent two memorable weeks in the United States. During the first week, she and the 34 other selected students visited the White House and met First Lady Laura Bush. From there, they went to the Organization of American States, the Brazilian Embassy, and the main cultural and historical landmarks in Washington, DC. They also participated in meetings with public and private sector organizations and social projects to learn more about youth activism.
After that first week, the students were divided into smaller groups that each went to different states to experience life in other parts of the United States. Silva went to Charlotte, North Carolina, where she stayed with a host family, attended classes in a local high school, took part in cultural and social responsibility activities in the community, and delivered presentations about Brazil.
“The Youth Ambassadors Program was a first step in a fortunate path of cultural events and social projects that followed,” she says.
Her participation in the program led to an opportunity to meet another First Lady. Last March, Silva was invited by the U.S. Embassy in Brazil to represent Brazilian youth at a cultural event with Michelle Obama in Brasilia.
“I was able to make my own remarks and to introduce the First Lady’s speech,” she says.
Here at Mount Holyoke, Silva appreciates the opportunities for youth activism created by the College and is happy she can continue to pursue her passions. In addition to her academic endeavors, she participates in a range of service projects and outreach. This summer, she attended the first Mount Holyoke College Leadership Retreat.
“It was an amazing experience, and I hope the Student Government Association (SGA) can offer this opportunity for many years to come,” she says.
After graduation, Silva intends to work for international organizations such as the United Nations and the World Bank.
“The non-profit sector is really interesting to me, and I am also considering becoming a diplomat and working for my beloved country.”